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California Farmers Facing Another Scramble for Water

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The federal government said Friday it won't send any of its reservoir water to the Central Valley for the second straight year, forcing farmers in California's agricultural heartland to scramble for other sources or leave fields unplanted once more.

Farmers had been bracing for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's announcement as California's drought enters its fourth year. Some farms are exempt from complete cuts under California's antiquated water rights system, dating to Gold Rush-era days. But many farmers are running out of short-term options to deal with water shortages, such as uprooting orchards and tapping groundwater wells.

"They were able to Band-Aid things together last year just to keep their trees alive," said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. "The first aid kit we had last year is really not available this year."

The Central Valley Project conveys water through a system of dams and reservoirs and 500 miles of canals. The agency says it can irrigate up to a third of California's agricultural land when water is flowing. When planning deliveries, the federal government has mandatory obligations to farms and communities holding senior water rights, including the city of Sacramento, and wildlife refuges protected by federal law to restore fish habitats, said Ron Milligan, a Central Valley Project operations manager. Agriculture ends up bearing much of federal water cuts during dry periods.

California's Ongoing Drought Drives Water Wars 2:40

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— The Associated Press